FVR blames gov’t for lackluster People Power event

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — FORMER President Fidel Ramos yesterday blamed last year’s coup attempt on the government’s failure to come up with a meaningful celebration of the 1986 People Power Revolution, saying disgruntled soldiers resented the administration’s indifference to the landmark event.

He made the statement at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Fort Bonifacio to mark the start of a four-day celebration of the people’s victory against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon in attendance.

“Let me recall last year’s Edsa-I fiasco, which was principally because of the government’s failure to plan for and manage a nationwide 20th anniversary series of participatory events for the purpose of internalizing the spirit of Edsa among Filipinos,” he said.

He said the younger generation’s indifference to the event may be condoned for the moment, but the officials’ indifference to it was “inexcusable.”

“The outcome was a failed coup conspiracy, the blackening of the image of some of our best military and police units, and the proclamation of a nationwide state of emergency—all of which damaged the nation’s credibility and fanned the flames of dissent and disunity. Let us act accordingly so that the same will not happen again,” Ramos said.

Indeed, the 21st anniversary of People Power went virtually unnoticed in the Philippines Thursday—a far cry from Feb. 22, 1986, when more than a million Filipinos packed the streets of the capital calling for Marcos’ removal.

For President Arroyo, who placed a simple wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the anniversary had a double meaning as it marked a year since she crushed a military revolt against her administration.

A year on, her hold on power has become stronger, much due to the debt she owes to the military, analysts have said.

Twenty-eight officers and soldiers are facing courts-martial, possibly at the end of the month, for their part in the failed plot.

For Ramos, who broke ranks with the Marcos regime and joined the Church-led mass movement that filled Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, the anniversary appears to have lost much of its meaning to many Filipinos.

“Many of our young people and even elected leaders today seem indifferent to the spirit of what has become known as the Edsa Revolution,” he said.

“Regretfully, the prevailing view is that Edsa was no big deal… that Edsa is no longer that important seems more and more the conventional wisdom… as the event recedes into the fog of history.”

Ramos, who was commander of the former Philippine Constabulary, and Marcos’ then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, broke away from the dictator on the night of the 22nd, along with a loyal band of officers and soldiers.

Among them was a young, charismatic colonel, Gregorio Honasan, who later went on to earn a reputation as the leader of failed coups and is now awaiting trial for his part in abortive putsches against Mrs. Arroyo.

Holed up at police headquarters at Camp Crame, just across Edsa from the headquarters of the Philippine military, Ramos and Enrile sent out urgent calls over radio stations for the people to help them.

Hundreds of thousands responded. In the tense days that followed, priests, nuns, ordinary citizens and children linked arms with the rebels and faced down, without violence, the tanks and machine guns of government troops.

That incident sparked what became known as People Power, or the Edsa Revolution, that installed opposition leader Corazon Aquino as president after Marcos and his family were spirited out of the presidential palace on the night of Feb. 25, and into exile.

But the nation’s attention is now more focused on charges that the military was behind a rash of unexplained killings and on jockeying for the congressional and local elections in May.

In 21 years, little had changed in the Philippines, said University of the Philippines political scientist Clarita Carlos.

“The key players just got older,” she added.

“Edsa was irrefutably a shining moment in Philippine history,” Ramos said. “A people’s collective act of quiet courage, yet powerful resolve.”